Learning Centre

What is Product Buildup?

Posted Tuesday, September 05, 2017, Author - Nathan Smith

Buildup is condition that occurs when ingredients accumulate on the hair shaft. Over time, this can cause undesirable appearance and a failure of next application of products to work properly.

How buildup shows up: stringy or sticky hair, hair can feel both dry and greasy, dull coat, overly soft (lacks body), unusually frizzy or just generally weird feeling, products don’t achieve usual results. The most recent buildup problem I encountered was with a full-coated ShihTzu that I groom monthly. The dog would show up with the coat looking very dirty, greasy and unkempt, even though I knew the owners brushed daily and bathed in between appointments. The coat looked stringy and oily, but felt dry. The owners were distraught. Once I was able to “see” the problem as most likely being buildup from home grooming, we changed the coat spray they were using during brushing and the problem resolved.

All conditioning agents, especially cationic conditioners and oils, have the potential to build up. The same technology and chemical engineering that has made conditioning agents more “substantive to hair” or better able to adhere to the hair shaft, have created the potential of buildup. Hair itself has a negative ionic “charge”. Cationic ingredients have a positive ionic charge. The cationic ingredients are attracted to the negative surface of the hair. The strength of this attraction depends upon the strength of the cationic charge of the ingredients. Not all cationics are equally charged, some are more powerful, some are lightly charged. This is one of the variables that formulators work with. The negative charge on the hair can also vary. Damaged areas of a hair cuticle carry a stronger negative charge.

Buildup is most likely to occur under the following circumstances:

  • Hair is frequently groomed or styled. Show dogs being campaigned are more at risk than average pets. Pets that are frequently brushed out with leave-in conditioners might present buildup.
  • Hair is shampooed with ultra mild shampoo or co-washed with conditioning cleanser. Mild surfactants may not remove previous products. Sulfate-free shampoos may not relieve the hair of all residue.
  • Hair is fine and non-porous. Non-porous Example: Yorkie coat is more likely to have buildup than is Bichon Coat.
  • Hard water – a high amount of calcium in the water can create a sticky buildup that leaves hair feeling dull and rough. If the water in your area is hard, select a shampoo with EDTA in it. This is a chelating agent that binds to metal ions in the water and keeps them from depositing on hair.
  • Hair is badly damaged. Damaged hair has a greater negative charge and will attract more cations.

Buildup is not inevitable. Some hair is more prone to buildup than others, some products have more ingredients that stick to hair. Buildup is an interaction between products and the nature of the hair itself. Before I list ingredients that have been associated with buildup, I want to remind the reader that having the potential for buildup does not mean that buildup is going to occur. This is not a “do not use” list. As groomer we need to be aware of where the potential problems might occur. This is what we call “Mindful Grooming”. This is a mindful grooming list.

Some ingredients that might buildup:

  • Polyquaterniums. All polyquaterniums have been quaternized and made cationic so that they adhere to negatively charged hair. The greater the cationic “charge”, the greater the strength of the ingredient to adhere to the hair and the greater the potential for buildup. Polyquaternium 10 and Polyquaternium 44 are noted as less likely to cause buildup than others.
  • Other quaternary ammonium compounds, aka “quats”, are engineered to be cationic and have “substantivity” to hair. Examples are Behetrimonium Chloride, Cetrimonium bromide, Stearalkonium chloride. Look for “-onium” in the ingredient name.
  • Some silicones. Dimethicone can buildup. Amodimethicone is less likely, because it is engineered to not layer on top of itself. Cyclomethicones are volatile and evaporate quickly. Water soluble silicones, such as Dimethicone Copolyol or those with PPG in the name, do not present a buildup problem.
  • Guar hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, aka GHPTC. Not only a conditioning agent, thickener and anti-static agent, GHPTC helps deposit active ingredients on the skin or hair. GHPTC is recognized as having fairly high potential for buildup, but it enables a formulator to use a little less of other ingredients, especially silicones, that have even more potential for buildup.
  • Alkyl amines, such as Stearamidopropyl dimethylamine, can contribute to buildup, but generally less so that the “quats”.
  • Oils. Silicones oils are most renowned for buildup, but all oils have the potential, since they are not water-soluble and may not rinse out.
  • Hair fixatives, such as acrylate polymers, found in hair sprays and styling products. With normal use, these fixatives gradually break down and/or wear off hair, but if used extensively, such as during periods of show campaigning, they can build up and cause hair to become funky and misbehaving.

How do you remove buildup? A good clarifying shampoo or degreaser which contains a fairly strong detergent and no additional conditioning ingredients will remedy most cases of product buildup. If you are using a sulfate shampoo as your basic cleanser, you will remove residual conditioning ingredients without buildup becoming an issue. It is a good idea to always have a clarifying shampoo in your cabinet. If you are unsure whether or not your favorite go-to shampoo has cationic conditioning ingredients, just switch to another product for a time or two. Look for a shampoo based on Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate, or Alpha Olefin Sulfonate.

A vinegar rinse will have a clarifying effect and will remove residue. There are a few products marketed as “acidifiers” which are designed for hair and will remove residue and leave the hair manageable and with texture. Some human beauty blogs suggest using baking soda to remove buildup, but this can be extremely harsh and drying to the hair.

Although product buildup is not common to the pet groomer, it can be the reason for the failure to get the expected results from products we are using or a full coat gradually becoming stringy, flat, or generally funky. Knowing the circumstances associated with buildup and ingredients that have the potential for sticking around too long will help the educated groomer be more mindful in selecting and using products. Every groomer’s cabinet should include a good clarifying shampoo to remedy buildup should it occur.